Walking Coastal Landscapes Helps Survivors Break the Silence

Active Devon’s Tom Mack co-ordinates the Connecting Actively to Nature (CAN) programme, which includes the annual Naturally Healthy May campaign. Tom is passionate about the power of nature to inspire creativity and to heal. So, when Tom met Viv Gordon via a Zoom chat and then for a walk during May, he was really interested to find out more about her work and how it ties in with spending time in nature and walking.

The below article shares a powerful personal story and covers the topic of abuse, so may be triggering for some people.

Tell Us About You, Your Project and How it Relates to Being Naturally Healthy?

“I’m Viv Gordon – I’m an artist and survivor activist using creativity and my lived experience of childhood sexual abuse, (CSA) to break the silence and build a sense of community with other survivors. My project Restless is about walking on coastal landscapes; using that experience to write poems and songs that talk about survivor journeys – navigating challenging territory, being on the edge and the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

In May 2021, I’m walking just over 100 miles from Starcross to Plymouth on the South Devon Coast Path. During the walk I’ll be chatting to people about the project and sharing daily blogs.”

How Can Spending Time Walking and Connecting to Nature Help?

“Walking and being in nature has always been a place of solace and sanctuary for me; because of my story I can find houses quite stressful or triggering environments and I feel safest outside. Walking is my happy place – it calms my nervous system which has been thrown out of whack by trauma. Also, there is a very primal link between walking and activism – what do we do if we don’t like something? We walk out. How do we protest? We march.

Being in nature gives me a great sense of perspective, everything has its own cycles and flow, the adaptability is incredible – the image of a tree on a cliff top is a good example, battered by the wind it bends into new extraordinary shapes, but it is not broken.”

Is There a Particular Relevance of the Sea and the Coast?

“The idea of the powerful, restless sea as a metaphor for activism is at the heart of the project. The sea just keeps going – even when we fill it full of plastic or toxic stuff – it never stops and that continuous action is changing the landscape, sometimes slowly and imperceptibly and other times with dramatic rock falls. I’m not celebrating erosion just making a parallel. Activism, continuous collective action, changes the cultural landscape over time. That landscape is one which silences, shames and isolates survivors. I want us to be unstoppable in changing that.”

We Know That Nature and Being Active Can Stimulate Creativity, How Does That Help Survivors of CSA?

“I can only talk for myself as everyone finds their own way through this journey. But it helps me so much…physical activity is my salvation. I live with ongoing mental health needs as a result of the abuse – walking brings me out of my head and into my body, helps me be more present in the now and connect to the beauty and simplicity of nature. Coupling that with creativity gives me a voice.

Survivors get very little airtime culturally. Because of stigma and taboo it can be really hard to find the words to talk about abuse and its impacts, which means we lack the language and frameworks through which we can understand and articulate how we feel about what has happened to us. Restless is all about using imagery from walking the coast path to uncover non-medical ways to think and talk about my experiences.”

Why is it Important for Survivors to Share Stories and Connect with Each Other?

“There are an estimated 11 million adult CSA survivors in the UK but because of the cultural silence that surrounds this, lots of survivors feel incredibly isolated. Whenever I talk or perform at an event, people come and whisper their “me too” in my ear – often I am the first person they have told. It’s really important that this changes. Living with secrets takes a huge toll on our mental and physical health. People live with huge amounts of shame and guilt but we didn’t do anything wrong. The fault is always with the perpetrator.

Finding ways to break the silence and come into community gives us a chance to understand our own experiences better, feel less alone and become more empowered as individuals and collectively.”

How Can People Get Involved and Support Restless?

“From the 13th-21st of May we walked from Starcross to Plymouth, to raise awareness of Restless, meet supporters and inspire creativity. We posted blogs, photos, videos and poems on our social media so we’d love people to watch and share those and keep in touch with the project. We want people to get involved in our campaign #MyLineInTheSand – drawing a line under the silencing of survivors. We’re inviting people to share messages of hope, rage or solidarity on social media using the hashtag. Words can be written in the sand or anywhere – outdoors we’ve seen people use seaweed, driftwood, leaves and pebbles but we’ve also had contributions made out of playdough, tomato ketchup on a plate and written on steamed up mirrors! It’s the words that matter! Anyone can get involved whether you’re a survivor, know a survivor or just care about the issue.”

Find out More

To find out more about Viv’s project you can visit her website Viv Gordon Co or check out her social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you are a survivor and you need support then the following links might be helpful:

The Survivors Trust

If you would like to find out more about the Naturally Healthy campaign take a look at our Naturally Healthy May page or the Devon Local Nature Partnership website.

Written by Tom Mack – Programmes Manager and delivery lead for the CAN programme at Active Devon.